Jan Muhammad Dashti
Culture is the integrated whole of learned behavioral traits and characteristics that include knowledge, belief, art, morale, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. It consists of patterns of behavior and the ways of organizing collective experiences that develop in the course of history.
The Baloch customs in their collective spirit are entirely based on the intense feeling for good human conduct prescribed by the society. A Baloch is brought up in a peculiar social and cultural environment, and is constantly taught and reminded from the early childhood of the role he or she is to play and the imperatives of the tribal society. Even the games of his early life always touch individual demeanors and the tribal etiquette and the onerous responsibilities for him in his life in future. When grown up he becomes part and parcel of the tribal structure with the strong tendency to adhere strictly to the tribal ethos.
Many factors contributed in the development of a distinctive Baloch culture. Their Aryan origin, an agro-postural economy, nomadic way of life and a rough and nearly inaccessible landscape are responsible for their distinct tribal traditions and values. The desert landscape and rugged mountains served on the one hand in the development of very simple social behaviors and on the other hand it prevented the assimilation of Baloch culture into the dominating cultures of the surrounding nations.
The Balochi folk literature, oral in character, provides support for the institutions and behavior pattern of a deep-rooted culture. Balochi epics knit together a great mass of ancient traditions, customs, legends, prudential maxims and spiritual discourses. There are great reminiscences to the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata or with Homeric Greek epics with Baloch war songs.
Conceptually, the Baloch family, has provided not only the psychological bond cementing the unity of the family and common traditions which were handed down from father to son, but also fostered a collective consciousness among the family and ultimately the entire people who are tied up in the common descent. Like Aryans, the Baloch Kahul,(family) is the elementary cell of the culture, providing norms of conduct, and schooling to its members from birth to death on all aspects of the Baloch traditional values. It is the perennial source of stability, vitality and continuity of Baloch culture. A tribe consists of various clans and sub-tribes. It is a sort of federation. The chief of a tribe, Sardar is elected or selected from among the clan elders.
Balochi, the language spoken by the Baloch people, is a member of Indo-Aryan languages. It has many dialects: Western, Rakhshani and Eastern. The Balochi is closely related with Kurdish, Persian and Sanskrit, but is more archaic than these languages.
Baloch culture may have been influenced by the distinct cultures of the indigenous population living in Balochistan before the arrival of Baloch tribes in the region. Some historical evidences suggest that Medes and Jats inhabited the eastern part of Balochistan before Baloch came into Gedrosia and further east. Some Median, Sassanian and Dravidian cultural traits are clearly visible in the Baloch cultural traditions.
Cultural Values in a Tribal Setting
The Baloch believe that they are the heir of an ancient culture that manifests itself in a set of shared social norms, value system and traditions that control their entire social behavior. The truthfulness and honesty is regarded as the best virtues. A very peculiar cultural feature amongst Baloch is that even the criminal or offender, if apprehended, would never tell a lie even in the face of instant punishment because telling a lies to avoid any reprimand is against his sense of honor.
The Baloch is hospitable and helpful. He is ready to protect and fight for his Baahot. The home of any Baloch elder is a safe refuge and place of protection for all the offenders of law till the decision of the dispute through the Jirga or Medh, reconciliation. A neighbor is always regarded as under protection. The phenomenon of giving full security to a person who becomes Baahot is implicitly clear to every one amongst the people. Defending a Baahot is the prime duty of a Baloch who would never hesitate to take up arms to safeguard his life and property. Baahot could never to be refused whatever may be the risks.
Miserliness and avarice are damnable. Suicide is thought to be an act of cowardice. However, the Baloch kills himself to remove an honor-stain. Beggary is disapproved. The old and disabled are to be looked upon after by their relatives. Those who have no relations are looked after by neighbors or are given aid at the time of harvests or ceremonial occasions.
The Baloch is deeply proud. There are instances in Baloch history that to boost the individual or tribal ego, he took or made vows quite inconsistent with general practices. Killing of its own non-combatant women-folk in order to avoid their being dishonored by enemy forces; or binding themselves together to ensure that no combatants can run away from the battle in the face of advancing enemy, are glaring examples.
Baloch has a penetrating sense of national freedom and equality. Throughout history they never accepted any subservient position and insulting domination. They always fought the forces of exploitation, regardless of the consequences. Even among themselves the Baloch never tolerated supremacy of one tribe over the other. Rind-Lashaar conflict that ended in 9 major battles over a period of 30 years beginning most probably from 1520 AD was the result of that uncompromising attitude and tribal ego.
The Baloch has an open society with its unique characteristic of equality, freedom and fairness. Every Baloch is expected to take part in discussions in Diwaan, literally means gathering or assembly, which is open to everyone, at the house of the Sardar or elder. Social, political and economic problems concerning the tribe are openly debated in these assemblies.
The Baloch is nomadic with agro-pastoral economic foundations. Baloch considered all other professions except warfare below his ‚?~masterly status‚?T. A cattle rearing is considered an acceptable activity. Agriculture as a profession comes in vogue at a much later stage. Surprisingly, he still does not have any skill in trade and commerce. It is something, which did not suit an ‚?ohonorable Baloch‚?Ě.
The settlements were not permanent and houses built mainly from wooden materials were usually open and large, accommodating the whole family and flocks within the same premises. For temporary abode tents were in use. The house of community or tribal leader was the center of the settlement. The Baloch never violates the sanctity of home during war and enmity or under any circumstances whatsoever.
Names and titles assume much importance in Baloch society. Traditionally, the names are chosen on the sixth day of birth and child is given a name of some worthy forefather or foremother. The Baloch borrow names from trees, animals, and colors and even part of body. Names are also derived from the names of weekdays. Abbreviated forms or nicknames are for ordinary people. The words, Mir, Waaja, Kahoda are added out of courtesy. For women Bibi or Baanuk is always added to the name of good birth. The names of women are derived from various sources depicting beauty, honor and soberness. For example Maahu (moon like), Sanghien (extremely reasonable/weighty), Sharri (righteousness) Telu (Gold like) and Baanadi (lady lord). Father‚?Ts name is sometimes added to the name of son and probably came from Semitic traditions of Arab conquerors after 7th century AD.
The design of Baloch traditional dress has mostly been influenced by the climatic conditions. The Baloch wore a Jaamag, (a long shirt), down to heels and loose trousers; Paag (a turban) and Sawaas (shoes made of leather or of dwarf palm). In recent times noble men used overcoats or waistcoat that was usually embroidered in different colors. Shawl or Chaader (a broad piece of cloth) is still used by elderly as a mark of distinction, which is wrapped, round the waste. Women wear loose shirts or gown and trousers. The gown is ornamented with a profusion of needlework of various colors. The shirt has a large Pandol (front pocket), near the knees, which is also embroidered. She wears a scarf or Gushaan on the head, which also covers neck and chest. Women wear shoes and socks. Virgins and widows usually wear black or white shirt without any colorful embroidery. Men usually had long hairs while the long hair of women is parted in the center of forehead, Giwaar. The hair is beautifully knitted in two and let down back. Teetuk or tattooing is made on women‚?Ts forehead and cheeks especially of newly married girls.
The primitive Baloch thought that garment or jewelry could ward off evil and protects persons from vicious elements. The bridegrooms beside his usual ornament, such as sword, had some hidden object on his person during, at least, the first night of the marriage. The women wear Durr (ear rings), Pulu and Pulluk (rings in the nose), Haar or Touq (necklace and bracelet), Mundriek (rings in hand and foot fingers) Sangah or Tali (rings around hands), Baahuband or Baahienk (armlets). Ornaments of various kinds are also fixed of their hair (Modi, Chouti, and Taali).
Ceremonies of birth include Shashigaan (selecting name on sixth day), Burruk (circumcision), Paadgaami (child‚?Ts beginning to walk) and Shalwaar (wearing of trousers) etc. The occasion of the birth of either a male or a female child is marked with much music and singing. The women folk attend the mother for seven nights and sing Sipath or Naazienk, literally meaning songs of praise. Food and sweets were prepared and distributed on these ceremonial occasions.
The Baloch has greatest considerations for ‚?~racial purity‚?T. He never gives his woman in marriage to a ‚?~racially inferior‚?T person whatever may be his economic position. He is proud and conscious of his noble birth. He never marries into an alien caste. Celibacy or bareness for the women is strongly disliked. A man who does not marry is looked down and called a Lund. Baloch never tolerates insults. Female dishonor can be washed only by blood. Marriages are performed with ceremonies that include music, dancing and distribution of food. Expenses of food prepared on either side are borne by the bridegroom. To meet the expenses and amount of Labb, ‚?~bride money‚?T, relatives of the bridegroom collects Bijjaari, (voluntary subscriptions from friends and relatives). Relatives of the bride also collected Bijjaari called Giwaari on the marriage evening.
After engagement, the parents of the girl are bound to give the hand of the lady to the person to whom she is betrothed. There is no backing-out from either side save in exceptional circumstances. Saahbadal or system of exchange of girls between families without stipulations or expenses paid is also prevalent in certain tribes.
Usually the entire clan is invited in the marriage ceremony. The persons sent for inviting the people, Lotuki, included singers and dancers who start singing and dancing before entering a village. A few days before the event, a large wooden tent is built, called Mangeer, few yards from the home of the bridegroom. Among peculiar customs, Korag is most prominent. The bridegroom is taken a few furlongs outside the settlement, as the word connotes, most probably to the riverside, in the evening, where arrangements are made for his bath and make-up. He would then mount on horseback or camel and is brought to Mangeer amid much singing and dancing. Formal wedding ceremony nikaah is performed usually on the same evening, after which and usually after sunset, the bridegroom accompanied by close friends and relatives, moves to the bride‚?Ts house. Another peculiar custom is that a week before the marriage, the girl is secluded from the rest of the family in order to prepare her for the ceremony and to teach her the responsibilities of the marriage life.
Burial rites of Baloch are quite simple. Baloch mourn the death of a person in manner appropriate to the dead man‚?Ts social position. Death of a hero or a Chief is lamented for several days extending to forty days. Almost the entire tribe participates in the ceremonies. The people gather in the house of the deceased and express their grief. He is praised for his good deeds. Generally, there is no mourning for a person killed for adultery and or punished for betraying the tribal cause. A Baloch never weeps or cries in public to mourn the death of his relatives or friend. He usually stays in dignified calm.
The entertainment is limited to games, music and dancing. The most favorite among the games for the adults was horse racing and archery. Betting on the games by participants themselves or by on-lookers is in vogue.
The Baloch has a rich musical culture. Music has its importance on all occasions except death when the ceremonies are of a more solemn nature. The entire Balochi musical structure is based on Zaheerag (Melancholic Music). Among the musical instrument Nal, (flute) Tamborag and Soroz are important. Weather, harvest or thanks giving dances among the Baloch are always collective and associated with groups. Zigry a religious sect, among the Baloch, practices a kind of religious dance called Chogaan. Among the main dances is Dochaapi when men gather and dance, clapping hands with the movement of foot, neck and head on rhythmical music on drum. On many occasions women move in a circle, clapping hands but with out any body movements such as Dochaapi. Dances such as Lewa, Hambo and Latti were also prevalent mostly through foreign influence. Lewa is supposed to be of Arabian origin, while Latti and Hambo are dances of the ancient indigenous people of Balochistan.
Exchanges of reciprocal and detailed information, ‚?~Haal‚?T, when one chance to meet another, is one of the cardinal social behaviors. When in groups, an elderly person of noble birth gives and receives Haal. Mestaagi (gift offered on receiving good news) is the reward for giving good news such as birth of a son, news of the arrival of a lost relative or a report of victory in the battle.
The Baloch society is based on the principle of mutual benefit and loss. Voluntary subscription ‚?~Bijjaar‚?T is raised on all important occasions and ceremonies, on marriage, death or any calamity or any event requiring expenses that may be beyond the capacity of the individual to pay. Occasionally, the Sardar also asks for Bijjaar for a needy tribesman. Hawaachk is the dignified way of assisting another by offering personal services or labor. Work in someone‚?Ts fields or reaping of crops; works to build a house for a neighbor, or any other kind of physical labor for another comes under the general definition of Hawaachk. Other forms of assistance are Chankuk, a contribution in food grain after harvest; Nikaan, assistance to the neighbor in kind; Baanji, help in prepared food to the neighbors. If some one died in a family, the neighbors would supply prepared foodstuffs for the family at least for initial mourning days.
An offence against the individual such as theft or robbery is a corporate offence against the entire tribe. Offender‚?Ts family and the entire tribe must endure the burden. Sentence for misdemeanor is the payment of appropriate fine or compensating the loss of property in case of theft or robbery. Sometimes robbery was also punished with death. In cases of murder the relatives of the deceased have the inalienable right to claim blood for blood; and this claim has the tribal code of conduct, the deceased family and the entire tribal strength behind it. Among a few tribes the offender or his family gives blood compensation. Extreme torture or dishonoring was and is still against the tribal norms and considered a great insult. The crimes that could invoke death penalty or banishment include treason and adultery. Imprisonment of the culprits from any crime was not in vogue. Among the ancient Baloch, trial by ordeal was in vogue. The culprit had to prove his innocence by walking through the fire or passing through deep water.
Medh o Maraka is a unique social phenomenon. It has a prime place in adjudicating disputes between or amongst individuals and groups. The aggrieved party is contacted and requested to agree to Medh in accordance with traditions. Then a committee, Jirga that includes important personalities goes to the house of the victim or victims and accepts without any reservation the guilt of the offender and offers unconditional apologies on behalf of the person and asks formally the forgiveness and magnanimity of the host, the aggrieved party. The aggrieved family then declares its forgiveness, and the matter is ended there. This includes blood feud. Apart from Medh o Maraka, the Baloch would usually forgive the culprit if he personally enters the house premises of the aggrieved family, accepts his guilt and requests the magnanimity and forgiveness of the victim‚?Ts relatives.
There is complete social equality. Every person has equal rights and privileges and a recognized social status. Historically, however, certain dominated peoples of indigenous origin who were subjugated by the Baloch after their migration to these areas were regarded, as ‚?osocially inferiors‚?Ě. They had no role to play in political and military endeavors of the ‚?omaster race‚?Ě and were employed to perform certain duties including the cultivation of lands and other miscellaneous works beneficial to all. The Baloch never allowed inter-marriages with these people. Slavery was one of the earliest institutions among the Baloch. Slaves came in the Baloch social life after their movements from the Caspian region.
Unlike other group of servile dependents or indigenous tribes, Domb or Lodi has become an institution and has a recognized place in society. He acts as a messenger in many important matters. He generally makes arrangements during marriage ceremonies especially musical concerts and feasting the guests. He also makes arrangements on a variety of other ceremonies from birth to death. His manual labor is making of jewelry or iron instruments for tribal use. He has certain privileges. He is never harmed in time of war or peace.
Although a patriarchal society, the Baloch considers a woman a full partner in all social endeavors and accords her a position of trust and favor. There has been no system of veiling, or segregation of sexes. Among majority of Baloch tribes the woman owns and inherits property. She has not only to do the household work but also takes part in manly occupations such as grazing flocks and assisting in cultivation. She, therefore, has recognized rights and privileges. They are taken into confidence in times of grave emergency. Women usually provided medical and other assistance to the war injured. In spite of the fact that women were active participants in war, they were always spared. On the contrary, if women intervened in the battle, the war was stopped and negotiations began for settlements of dispute. Killing of a woman is considered an act of cowardice. It is a matter of honor that women are treated well and never harmed. Prostitution is practically unknown in Baloch society. A woman has to be won through courageous acts of a promising man of high character. A woman is expected to be extremely faithful. Faithlessness is punished with death. Among some Baloch tribes, it was generally an accepted principle that virginity of the bride was to be tested by displaying to close relations the bloodstained clothes after the first intercourse between the husband and wife as a testimony of the bride‚?Ts virginity.
The Baloch lady has the onerous responsibility to teach her son the moral principles of society and bring him up as a brave and enterprising youth especially on matters of traditional values and morality. Therefore, the position of a mother who bears children is enviably unique. The girls are also taught household tasks and other responsibilities to become honorable ladies to be proud upon by their relatives for their soberness, faithfulness and integrity. The mother‚?Ts position is further exalted when she becomes the mother of a son who is to be reared to shoulder the future responsibilities. The ancient Baloch sometimes practiced polygamy, believed to be mark of honor and resourcefulness. Divorce is regarded as an insult; however, impotency of man or barrenness of wife could be one of the major factors that invoke a divorce.
The guest is a mark of respect and held in honor. Even the enemy, once entered in the house, would get the treatment of an honored guest. All elders visit the guest in a village and also the ladies, inquiring in the traditional way, of his well-being and that is of his relatives and friends. The well-to-do persons have a separate house or tent for the guests. The Baloch are hospitable not only to common folk but also to any person in distress.
Revenge is the strongest element in Baloch culture. He never forgets to avenge the blood of his kin. Head for a head is in case of people of equal status. But compensating the death of a hero, Chief or a man of higher caste, this rule is generally not followed, and more people from offender’s side are killed. Nevertheless, Baloch usually forgives the blood because they consider it inappropriate to avenge on a person who is not of the deceased’s equal status. Blood must have to be paid in blood. ’If stone could melt away in waters then the spirit of revenge could be subsided; but neither stones melt away nor the spirit of revenge could be extinguished in a Baloch heart. For two centuries it persists and remains smart like a young hare of tender age’, so goes the saying. However, if Baloch comes to forgiveness and reconciliation through Medh 0 Maraka under tribal customs, then he would simply pardon the offender. He may also agree to a symbolic compensation. Sometimes to settle the dispute permanently, the offender’s relatives give a lady in marriage to the aggrieved family. This is to be in the case where the offender held a superior position in social hierarchy.
A Baloch hates the enemy to the extreme; but has the highest regard for those he likes. Mehr, deep devotion and extreme possessive love, is the guiding spirit and provided virtually a sound base for his outlook. He is devoted to those who may have helped him in any manner, Taasey aap ware, sad saala wapa bidaar: ’you should have affection for the person for a century that once offered you a glass of water’, so goes an old Balochi maxim.
Making vows is another unique distinctiveness. When a Baloch makes a vow to do or not to do certain acts he would abide by the oath of honor. Sometimes such vows resulted in disastrous consequences. The Baloch always swears by the head of his father or his sword, or he simply takes his beard in his hand and says the words he intended to do or not to do.
Shigaan, or taunting, is an established factor in Baloch culture and a permanent check on its members. As a ’born nobleman’ Baloch always suppose to behave throughout his life in a respectable and honorable manner. A rebuttal is considered a great insult as well as a reminder of his negative deeds. Everybody is conscious lest he is jibed at for any undesirable action not only of his own but also of his family and friends, or even the tribe. The Baloch is never afraid of death but greatly fears living a life of disgrace. Therefore, Shigaan, taunts, is intolerable.
Bravery and courage is the only criteria for getting respect from the common folk. Everybody is full of praise for the men who fell in the battle, or killed in revenging a wrong done to him or his neighbor. Minstrels compose verses in their honor, and women sing these in their time of loneliness or as lullabies to their kids. Those who run away from the battlefield, or avoid facing an enemy are always cursed and dubbed as not sons of their true fathers. The Baloch son is nursed and taught to be a war hero. The Baloch mother is deeply proud of her son who when comes to age would be ready to fight. Suob Goun Shakkalien Janganent: ‚?~gains depend on sweet fights‚?T is a true manifestation of Baloch attitude towards war. It is deeply rooted in their culture and language. However, Baloch never attack minors, women or low caste in a battle. Neither would they attack a sleeping enemy. To warn the enemy before attack is the most distinguished of the combat ethics of Baloch society.
Lajj o Mayaar means adherence to high principles in all matters. In its general sense it is a comprehensive term having deep cognitive metaphysical, social and ethical values. In others words, it is an intelligent self-restraint on certain matters, and a vigorous and provocative force demanding the individual to act and behave in a manner prescribed by the tribal codes. The term Lajj o Mayaar truly depicts the traditions of justice and equality, reasonableness and sobriety, bravery and courage, sagacity and wisdom, truthfulness and integrity, hospitality and devotion. Belajj, or person devoid of Lajj, has all the characteristics of a vicious and a contemptible person of a wicked nature.
Baloch is superstitious as any ancient people. Offering sacrifice is amongst the major mythological beliefs. They offer sacrifice on all-important occasions such as birth, puberty, and death and even on the occasions of construction of new houses or before leaving or settling in a new area. Sacrifices are for warding off of evil forces and to please the divines. Beliefs in magic, fairies or jinn and persons with evil powers are still prevalent to a large extent. Believing that dreams can predict future events and similar other superstitious beliefs of central Asian origin are still in vogue.
Baloch religious and mythological beliefs in their recent forms are the result of great cultural changes since their movement from Caspian Sea region. As a section of Aryan tribes it can be presumed that the Baloch had the same religious beliefs as those of the ancient Aryans. Although Jewish or Christian influences can not be discarded altogether but their religious and mythological history before their adherence to Islam is much shrouded in obscurity. Before Christian era the great Iranian religion, Zoroastrianism, had swept the entire region as far as Afghanistan, therefore Zoroastrian influences on the Baloch is fairly visible. Their concept of good and evil is come from Zoroastrian thoughts. The Baloch never spat into fire, and some tribes even swore by the fire that certainly came from Iranian religion.
Every culture must have living ideas, some cardinal points to sustain and inspire its people. The Baloch values have always been centered as what they considered good or evil, judging by their own social standards. A ‚?otrue Baloch‚?Ě is expected to follow in individual and collective life the tribal code of conduct, which is readily obeyed by all, ostensibly without any protestation. Baloch had been resisting the cultural onslaught of the victorious and pre-dominant cultures of the region throughout history against heavy odds making them comparable to Jewish people in maintaining their cultural and national identity preserved. He never easily accepted alien manners. Even after accepting Islam, they usually preferred their own way of life, and its customs always proved stronger than the laws of Islam. The social behavior of Baloch is almost the same as was in the primitive days. The perception of good and evil had not been changed. The values of lajj o Mayaar, Mehr, honesty, bravery, protection of Baahot, social concepts regarding, Hawaachk, Bijjaar, Shigaan, revenge, Medh o Maraka and adultery, have been retained.
Purely Aryan in origin, some resemblance and similarities with Semitic and Middle Eastern cultures with Baloch culture can not be ruled out and these are mainly due to powerful Mesopotamian and Assyrian influences, as Balochistan has provided a channel of communication between Persia and Indian subcontinent and served as a trade link between Middle East and the Central Asian countries. Some of the Jewish cultural mores might have crept into Baloch traditions through Mesopotamian and Sumerian influences. Balochistan remained under Greek control for nearly 25 years. However, it is difficult to strictly judge the influence of Greek civilization as a whole on the Baloch. In the Balochi folk stories, the characters of superhuman and part human and part animal are clearly of Sumerian and Assyrian forms. Gilgamesh like heroes, with godly qualifications has Babylonian mythological resemblance with slightly different versions according to local surroundings.
In recent years, nomadic way of life is being replaced to a settled one and agro-pastoral economy is being changed to small-scale trade and commercial activities. Previously a classless society, a rapidly growing middle class is emerging accompanied with its own norms and values, almost incompatible with traditional Baloch morals. Development of agriculture has produced a class of feudal unknown to Baloch. Among various other acts of subjugation the Persians and the Pakistani authorities have been trying to destroy the tribal system by weakening the centuries old Sardari institution. They have replaced Baloch customary laws with a set of laws totally alien to Baloch social morality. Due to Islamic religious influences, previously unknown practice of segregating woman is being introduced especially among middle classes.
No elaborate structure of religious institutions is visible in Baloch society. There are least traces of any religious set up like priesthood separately functioning, other than the normal tribal institutions. Despite the state sponsored religious fundamentalism and fanaticism prevailing in the countries controlling Balochistan; Baloch is distinct in their attitude towards religious tolerance. They are least interested in religious matters and having a totally liberal or secular mindset compared with other neighboring nations.
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Balochi is the language of the people but in a broader sense connotes the code of conduct prescribed by society for every Baloch.
The Balochi epics while describing the heroes and their achievements contain the very essence of Baloch society and their behavioral organism. Another striking point is that the enemy is never degraded but on the contrary their heroic deeds in the battle are eulogized, their commanders or chief is praised for their bravery or for their excellent battle plans.
Sardar is the head of the tribe. It is an administrative, judicial, social and political institution developed and perfected through an evolutionary process during countless centuries. Sardar has immense powers to take important decisions in consultations with sectional chiefs of the tribe. The institution is democratic and elective in its historical quintessence. The people gave a double share of tribal land to the Sardar for his Sardari (Chieftaincy) and for catering to the expenses of his hospitality.
A Lund is a person who without any medical or social reasons refrains to marry. This is considered a degrading act.